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Winners, sinners of Hub design

MUSIC REIGNS in the MBTA subway, and jackhammers clatter as the Central Artery comes down, piece by piece, while the year ends and we tally the good deeds and misdeeds of 2003. Herein, then, are a clean and dirty dozen prizes for the doings on the landscape and cityscape.


* Light the Night Beacon. Steeples dazzle the night and the eaves and walls of King's Chapel glow as LightBoston's 7-year-old program transforms the architecture of the evening. Applause for their artful illumination of the State House dome, the Tremont Baptist Temple, the Cathedral of St. Paul, and, soon, the Chinatown Gateway. May these artful elves continue to enhance their Diamond Necklace along the paths and buildings of the walking city.

* Lords and Ladies Limping Prize. There will be no waltzing flowers and dew drop fairies next Christmas at the Wang Center as the annual Boston Ballet production of "The Nutcracker" awaits threatened eviction. Give landlord Josiah Spaulding the Scrooge citation for undermining one of the city's most beloved homegrown traditions in favor of second-string Rockettes. Boston has had its Sugar Plum delights for 35 years, but only the mayor's request for a one-year stay can retain this seasonal treat.

* Engraved Ax for Mount Slaughter. In the unkindest cut of all, one of the state's most prominent peaks was assaulted on Mount Wachusett. Despite public outcry, a rare, 140-year-old northern red oak forest was clear-cut by the Wachusett Mountain Associates, private developers who leased the 450 acres of the state park for skiing from its supposed protectors, the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

* Ding-dong Bell for Trolley Jollying. Inch by inch, row by row, and tree by tree, the once grimy environs of Huntington Avenue have become an agreeably adorned streetcar line -- shown in a new incarnation of Bradley Clarke's book "Streetcar Lines of the Hub: The 1940s." Pleasant shelters, attractive fences, and trees add appeal to the spruced-up route.

* Double Turncoat for Demolition. Wielding the marine planning axiom that the big fish fry the little fish, Fidelity's Edward (Ned) Johnson first funded the splendid new Eastport Park in South Boston and now plans to alter its public artistry and privatize its space. Designed by landscape architect Craig Halverson and artist David Phillips, the acre-plus park with its swaying coastal plants, meandering paths, and briny environs face an uncertain future as this "preservation philanthropist" works to privatize and flatten the public space.

* Platinum Stop Sign for Poor Planning. If you think you're jammed in traffic now and your engine is so overheated you could cook road kill on the hood, Governor Romney doesn't share your pain. He nay-said the North-South Rail Link, supported by every governor since Frank Sargent plus 121 legislators. By blocking the vital connector that would join North and South stations and boosting the road warrior highways that create congestion, pollution, and asphalt across the state, he turns his vaunted "smart growth" to dumb sprawl.

* Cool Act, Clean Climate Prize. Acting wisely where Washington wimps out, the Massachusetts attorney general's office rallied an alliance of Northeastern states and environmental groups to clean the air. Their suit to get the EPA to regulate and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the chief global-warming gas, managed to summon a coalition of state legal eagles and activists to the cause of clean-air-and-cool-planet suit, courtesy of Attorney General Thomas Reilly.

* Prize in Paper-thin Planning. The award for faux facade and inept urbanism goes to the Commonwealth Hotel. The heir to the resplendent old Kenmore Hotel torn down by Boston University's eternally ahistorical agents (recall the Armory) was developed by Frank Keefe and allowed by the planning-lite BRA. The wimped-out agency's failure to peek under the gauze and monitor the original structure is matched only by its ineptness in permitting its equally ersatz second design.

* Clashing Symbols for Runaway Runway. Massport's permit for the new runway 14/32 will accelerate its assault on neighborhoods. As air travel traffic shrinks and rail service rises, the Massport autocrats -- oops, authority -- lays out the welcome mat to more small planes for the privileged and less rest for slumberers in the city.

* Shimmering Star Citation. Architect Frank Gehry, the stellar modernist manipulator of forms-fooling-with-function, gets another crinkle in his deconstructionist cap with MIT's new Stata Center, designed for the school of engineering and nearing completion. While many of the latest "de-con" showoffs look like scrunched up paper, this center flourishes an animated and lively collection of shapes and substances -- part toy, part triumph of siting and style.

* Wobbly Empty Chair. The city administration functions on a two-legged stool as Mayor Menino scrimps on preservation and conservation staffing in the name of budget beating, leaving empty slots in vital urban institutions, including the Parks Department and the Landmark Commission.

* Emblem for Community Obstinacy and Asphalt Intransigence. The stylish IKEA design maven may adopt the designs of the modernist heroes in their objets d'art, but as builders they bring down good urban design. Their Wal-Martesque plans for Somerville and the giant car magnet in Stoughton add excess asphalt, refuse delivery service for car-free customers, and resist public transit and environmental requisites. Whether in urban Somerville or boon-based Stoughton, they undercut their chic goods with retro public policies.

* Bright Lights for Illumination. Will tall buildings dull the twinkle in the sky above Boston's midtown cultural district as overscaled structures soar? Only the developer's pledge to stop the Gaiety Theatre from demolition until their Kensington high-rise gets financed can stop the endless gaping holes and faceless towers that the city is letting dominate downtown. Nurtured by Jack Little, founder of the Friends of the Gaiety, the design of early modern master architect Clarence H. Blackall for the working people is on the chopping block, despite its sparkling interior and showcasing of the jazz age Harlem Renaissance of Josephine Baker and Ethel Waters. May we light a candle for the historic city and the show to go on as the New Year begins.

Jane Holtz Kay is author of "Asphalt Nation" and "Lost Boston," architecture critic for The Nation, and a contributor to the recent "Towards a Livable City."

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